Friday, December 24, 2004

“How to Live by Faith”
(Galatians 2:20)

January 16, 2005

What is faith? The Bible says—this is my paraphrase of Galatians 3:11--“The person living right before God does so on the basis of faith.” So faith is so very important. It’s not something we exercise once to become part of God’s family and then set on a shelf. If we’re following Jesus, it’s our way of life.

I’ll return to that passage later. What I want to communicate to you is that there’s hardly any more important issue for followers of Jesus to understand than faith. Faith is our way of life. But when we think about faith, we are prone to make two different kinds of errors. One is to think that faith is “believing the unbelievable”—that faith is a blind leap in the dark. The other is to make faith a kind of hollow agreement with certain doctrinal truths. Both miss the point. Let’s take those errors one at a time.

On the one hand, there is a tendency to think of faith as “believing the unbelievable.” It’s like saying, “Nobody in their right mind would believe this stuff, so we prove just how much faith we have by believing it anyway.” I think it was H.L. Menken who said, “There are some ideas so foolish only a theologian could believe them.”

In the 19th century there was a man from Denmark named Soren Kierkegaard. In many ways, Kierkegaard loved God and honored Christ, but he did popularize a phrase pretty that’s misleading: “leap of faith.” It makes it sound like faith is something to get to when you get to the end of your brain, faith means that you just have to jump blindly—a blind leap of faith in the dark.

On the other hand, for a lot of people, faith is simply agreeing to a stated truth. To “have faith” is to say that you agree with what the church teaches, or that you agree with a statement of faith. Faith becomes a kind of nod and a grunt. Millions of Americans think they are Christians based on this pygmy-sized idea of faith, and they aren’t.

Neither of these ideas do justice to what faith is—that is, faith as it’s presented in the Bible. In the Bible, faith is not a leap in the dark, or just an agreement that something is true. In the Bible, faith is immediate, consistent and relational trust in God and in His Son, Jesus Christ. You don’t have faith in a church or in certain doctrines; you have faith in God Himself.

That’s never clearer than in the ministry of Jesus. As we’ll see, Jesus was never shy about calling people to have faith in Him. Faith isn’t something you have about Jesus; faith has to really, truly, rest in Him to be real faith. It’s kind of like a drowning man: real faith in a life preserver means reaching out and holding on for dear life, not just agreement with the idea that life preservers are good things!

Over the next four weeks, we’re going to cover a lot of territory on this subject of faith. This is going to be a very practical study that just may change your life. We’ll talk about different types of faith, how to increase faith, and how faith needs to impact our daily lives.

But we need to build from a firm foundation. To me, a great place to start in one of my favorite passages, Galatians 2:20:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

For Paul, this is what the life of a follower of Jesus Christ is all about now. This is a key verse. At the heart of it are the words, “I live by faith.” Many of you have memorized this verse. But what does it mean?

Notice how the verse zigzags between the past and the present. It starts with the past:

I have been crucified with Christ…

Then it comes to the present:

…and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God…

Then back to the past:

…who loved me and gave himself for me.

This gives us our first clue on how to live by faith:

1. Faith is grounded in real historical events—when God sent His Son into our world and especially when He went to the cross for us.

We don’t buy the “leap in the dark” approach to faith. There’s a leap, but it’s in the light with the eyes wide open.

On the one hand, the Bible tells us that faith always involves things you can’t see. (If you could see it, it wouldn’t be faith.) For example, 2 Corinthians 5:7 says, “we live by faith, not by sight.” And Hebrews 11 says over and over again that faith involves the unseen. But just because something is unseen doesn’t mean it’s irrational. Most of you have wireless (cellular) telephones. Can you see the sound of the person’s voice flying through the air? No? Does that make it crazy to believe that it does do that? Of course not. Just because you can’t see it, it doesn’t mean that it’s not there.

On the other hand, faith is never described as blind faith. 2 Peter 1:16 says,

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

We have the firsthand testimony of many of the writers of Scripture for the key events that mark the supernatural intervention of God in our world. Beyond that, we have plenty of historical and archaeological that confirm the accounts of Scripture. Our faith never says, “Just shut up and accept this”—it says, “Go ahead, investigate, check it out.”

And the #1 event worth checking out is the weekend that changed the world—from the gruesome death of Jesus on Good Friday to His resurrection the following Sunday. That’s the event on which our faith stands.


2. Faith transcends time: by trusting in God and His promises, God takes the benefit of Jesus’ death on the cross 2000 years ago and applies it to us today.

OK—listen carefully. Since God is beyond time—He created time, after all--then when we trust Him, when we have faith in Him, that faith transcends time. That is how He is able to take our sins today and apply them to the cross of Jesus 2000 years ago.

A few years ago, I did a paraphrase of Galatians in my devotional time. Here’s Galatians 2:20 in Layne’s paraphrase, and it brings out the timeless dimension:

“The spiritual reality is this: when Christ was crucified, I was crucified with Him. I died there! That is, my sinful nature was dealt with on the cross. What’s left now is no longer the old me, but Christ is living in me. The life I live in this body now I live by faith (not law!) in the Son of God, who loved me and gave up His life for me.”

In faith, we connect up with the timeless dimension of God’s wonders. Faith goes beyond the immediate and the seen to the unseen. In a sense, faith makes visible in our lives the unseen blessings and care of God.

One very tangible way that we experience this is in the realm of God’s provision and finances. One of the lengthiest discussions of faith by Jesus is in the context of trusting God as provider—you’ll find it in Matthew 6, and that will be the last message in this series. I am convinced that trusting God for financial provision is the cutting edge of real faith development for American Christians today. I say American Christians for the simple reason that in many places around the world, where there is so much less, our sisters and brothers in Jesus have mastered this area of faith far better than we rich Americans have.

But in America, the combination of abundance and the emphasis our society places on self-reliance—a good emphasis in many ways—has made us not especially good at this all-important spiritual discipline of relying on God for His provision. I’m hoping to help us all grow in this dimension over these next few weeks.

3. Faith transforms us: by faith, Christ comes to live within us.

Let’s hear the whole verse again to get the idea:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Now there’s another verse I want to put alongside that one that will help us flesh this out, Galatians 3:11:

Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith."

Both verses have this key expression: “live by faith.” In Galatians 3:11, Paul is quoting the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk (3:4), one of the most quoted passages of the OT cited in the NT—here as well as in Romans and in Hebrews.

Paul is contending with a false notion about how a person is made right with God. Is it by keeping the OT law? No, says Paul. The law was just a tutor, teaching us about God’s holiness, our sin and our need for a savior, the Messiah. Faith is what plugs us into God’s grace.

But more than that. Paul is also telling us how a redeemed person, a follower of Jesus, lives. He lives by faith. Not just at the beginning of the Christian life, but all the way, all the time.

In Galatians 2:20, it’s clear that this kind of faith is not “once-for-all” but a continuing kind of faith. Paul speaks of being “crucified with Christ”—that the old Paul died on the cross, and now Jesus lives in him. That’s past, and that’s a done deal. If you know Christ, this is signed, sealed and delivered.

But that’s not all that Paul says:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Right now (not in the past, not in the distant future), the life I live is “by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

I want to bring out three aspects of what Paul says here about faith, that’s at the foundation of what Biblical faith is—

1. Real faith is intensely personal.
2. It’s faith in the Son of God—who loved me
3. It’s faith in the Son of God—who gave Himself for me.

1. Real faith is intensely personal.

In this one verse, Paul says “I” or “me” no less than seven times. Real faith grips a person. It’s not cool and collect, but passionate. It digs down deep within you.

John went as a missionary to a British colony, but was completely ineffective. His life was frustrating and he felt he was missing something, but could never put his finger on it. He’d been trained in a fine school of theology, and knew the best techniques, but he ended up washing out and going back home.

Dejected, he went moped around for a few months and then, at the last minute accepted an invitation to a Bible study. When he arrived, someone was reading a long passage from a book. He listened as the writer described a life like his own. Later, he wrote that at that prayer meeting, his heart was “strangely warmed” as he finally got it clear: faith comes from God as a gift from God that each and every person must exercise in joy in what Christ has done for us on the cross. This washed out missionary went on to be one of the most effective evangelists and church planters of his time—John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.

2. It’s faith in the Son of God—who loved me

Love is never passionless or impersonal. Love means an investment of time, money, and emotional commitment.

Faith is never a longing stare at a cold, hard heaven, but a passionate response to a loving God. The way Jesus lives shows us how God’s love works. This is a Jesus who cries at a friend’s tomb, a Jesus who says, “I’m leaving you my joy.” This is the Jesus who touched lepers and who loved the loveless and the outcaste. This is the Jesus who made time for little kids, and was just as pleased to teach Mary of Bethany as the whole crowd on a hillside. This is the Jesus who stripped off his cloak and got down on His knees to wash His disciples’ feet.

Seen this way, faith is just love’s return. It’s the least you can offer in thanks to His love.

But Paul takes it one step further:

3. It’s faith in the Son of God—who gave Himself for me.

This is the center of the bull’s-eye for the faith of a Christian: Jesus’ death on the cross.

He gave Himself—on the cross. That’s the extreme and ultimate expression of love. Paul writes in Romans 5:6-7:

6You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

My faith is not just in gentle, loving Jesus. It’s also—and especially—in Jesus crucified, Jesus the bloody. The cross is in the crosshairs of the faith we profess. We make a huge mistake if we think our faith is centered anywhere else. There He paid for my sins. There’s where I was made right with God. On the cross. That’s where Jesus paid the price and began the rollback of the reign of darkness and sin.

When I trust God, I trust in what He did on the cross, and that what He did there has the power to change me now and change my eternity. And faith is another name for that trust.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

This is a faith that is always, every time, life changing. Not just once, but continually. Will you journey with me as we explore the dimensions of faith? I hope so. Let’s pray.



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